Women in Latin America: The Challenges We Face

Latin America is known for its culture, delicious food, beautiful scenery, and its joyful people. But what most people don’t know, is that despite most Latina women priding ourselves in being strong, we live in an overwhelming sexist society where our voices are rarely heard. Latin American women are faced with structural and everyday discrimination and violence and fear and injustice having an ongoing presence in their lives. For years, most of us have suffered in silence, but due to recent events in Argentina, Colombia and Venezuela mixed with the eagerness to see some change in women’s rights worldwide, Latinas and women all around the world can finally start letting go of the shame that ties them to their suffering. We should recognize the struggles that women go through, not because they’re helpless victims in need of our saving, but because their struggle needs to be supported and heard.

 

Did you know that five countries in Latin America have a complete ban on abortions? Regardless of rape, incest or health issues, women in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Chile and the Dominican Republic can’t get an abortion. Due to the heavy influence that the Catholic Church has in these countries, abortion is not only frowned upon, not to mention it’s still taboo. So taboo, that in fact most women in these countries are terrified to go to the hospital if they experience abnormal bleeding during their pregnancy, because they’re afraid the nurses and doctors will assume that the bleeding is due to an induced abortion and will report them to the authorities. However, there are a few countries -six, to be exact- that do allow abortion under certain circumstances. This isn’t much of a silver lining, though, since it doesn’t help with the alarming growing rate of unsafe abortions performed. More than 90 percent of the abortions in Latin America are unsafe and thousands of women are hospitalised every year due to complications.

 

Machismo, which is the fervent belief in strong or aggressive masculine pride -but also known as the belief that men must prove their masculinity and strength in order to appear stronger than women- is an ongoing problem and in most cases the problematic root for the way most men carry themselves and behave. Additionally, machismo is one of the main elements responsible for the way most women are viewed and femicide, which is not a contained issue in Latin America. The way women and femininity are perceived in Latin American culture stems from the prominent patriarchal views, which normalizes the abuse towards women -not only physical, but also emotional and civil-, allowing machismo and femicide to happen frequently.

 

However, despite facing so many obstacles, Latina women still find the strength to fight these injustices and carry on. In the past few months, Latinas voices have started being heard not only in their countries, but also worldwide. In October, thousands of women marched down the streets of Buenos Aires, dressed in black and holding signs with the names of victims and chanting “Ni una menos” (Not one less), the slogan of this women’s rights movement, amongst other things. This is the third national protest we’ve seen in Argentina concerning this movement in a little over a year now, and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. The organizers of these rallies are calling on the government, the police and justice system to start doing more in order to stop the violence. And it doesn’t stop there. Their claims are centered around the trafficking of girls for prostitution, equal pay with men, more job opportunities, longer maternity leave, childcare for working mothers and free access to lawyers for victims of domestic violence. Women in Argentina recognize that in order for the violence and machismo to come to an end, they need to have economic independence and thankfully, Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, said he would push ahead with carrying out a proposal to reduce violence against women, which would also include better monitoring of abusers, establishing a hotline to report abuse and more shelters.

Change can also be seen more recently, as women in Colombia are having their voices heard loud and clear, as they stand on the frontline of the peace accord between Colombia’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which was approved by the country’s congress. The agreement gave gender issues a center role, by paying attention to gender issues and not just involving women in peace talks, but by acknowledging that gender can help set the foundation for “transitional justice” and help build peace. The peace accord included not only accountability and reparations for human rights abuses, but also eight areas for incorporation, which are:

  • Guarantees of the economic, social and cultural rights of women and “people with diverse sexual orientations and identities”

  • Access to rural property for women

  • Prevention of risks specific to women

  • Promotion of women’s participation in representation, decision-making and conflict resolution

  • Public recognition, dissemination and countering of stigmatization of women’s political work

  • Institutional action to strengthen women’s organizations

  • Access to truth and justice, and measures to counter impunity

  • Disaggregation of data by gender

Albeit we have a lot to celebrate with these advancements, we cannot forget about the current situation that most Venezuelan women face everyday. Over the past few months, the situation in Venezuela has only gotten worse, as the economy has collapsed and the country is faced with unbelievable levels of inflation, food shortages and a crumbling medical sector, which has become a growing anguish for thousands of young women. The majority of medications considered essential by the World Health Organization have vanished from many hospitals and pharmacies, leaving patients with various illnesses to struggle to get the medical treatment they need. This has lead to the expansion of the black market and the rise of its prices, which most of the population can’t afford. So where does this leave most women? Well, traditional contraceptives like birth control and condoms have practically disappeared from pharmacies, pushing women to reluctantly opt for sterilisations, because they would rather go through this hard-to-reverse procedure than to be faced with the hardship of pregnancy and parenting. Not only are pregnancy and parenting challenging processes, but add to this the struggle of finding adequate food, giving birth in overcrowded and under-equipped hospitals and having to spend hours standing in lines for sparse diapers, medicines and baby food. Yes, Venezuelan women are going through unimaginable hardships right now, but this is why we need to shine a light on their struggles and become advocates to their day to day battles.

 

In the past few months, the world has been subject to a whirlwind of political, social, and economical issues, and thankfully, in the epicenter of it has been: women’s rights. Which is why we need to stop thinking of Feminism as a ‘’trend’’ and start taking it seriously. And I’m not just talking about women in Latin America anymore, but all around the world. Everyday, we are subjects to sexual harrassment, sexism in the media and workplace, high rates of homicide and our basic reproductive and civic rights being overlooked. The battles we face today may not be the same women before us fought in the past, but that doesn’t mean that we should expect for the path to equality to be easy, if anything, it’s just as hard or in some cases even harder. We can’t forget that we’re stronger together and that if the progress of the early 21st century continues in this path, we can continue to grow and prosper our way to equality.

 

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